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01-09-2015 | Original Article | Uitgave 5/2015

Psychological Research 5/2015

The effect of expert knowledge on medical search: medical experts have specialized abilities for detecting serious lesions

Psychological Research > Uitgave 5/2015
Ryoichi Nakashima, Chisaki Watanabe, Eriko Maeda, Takeharu Yoshikawa, Izuru Matsuda, Soichiro Miki, Kazuhiko Yokosawa


How does domain-specific knowledge influence the experts’ performance in their domain of expertise? Specifically, can visual search experts find, with uniform efficiency, any type of target in their domain of expertise? We examined whether acquired knowledge of target importance influences an expert’s visual search performance. In some professional searches (e.g., medical screenings), certain targets are rare; one aim of this study was to examine the extent to which experts miss such targets in their searches. In one experiment, radiologists (medical experts) engaged in a medical lesion search task in which both the importance (i.e., seriousness/gravity) and the prevalence of targets varied. Results showed decreased target detection rates in the low prevalence conditions (i.e., the prevalence effect). Also, experts were better at detecting important (versus unimportant) lesions. Results of an experiment using novices ruled out the possibility that decreased performance with unimportant targets was due to low target noticeability/visibility. Overall, the findings suggest that radiologists do not have a generalized ability to detect any type of lesion; instead, they have acquired a specialized ability to detect only those important lesions relevant for effective medical practices.

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